John 4:24

Sermon preached on December 16, 2001 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2001. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

How do you think about God? How do you picture Him. When you pray, what thoughts and ideas come to mind?

It's important that we think about God accurately. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman,

"You Samaritans
worship what you do not know..."

We need to have accurate knowledge of God if we are to worship Him acceptably. In the passage before us, Jesus tells us about what God is like. He said,

"God is spirit,
and his worshipers
must worship in spirit and in truth."

God is spirit.

God is spirit. What does this mean? What is Jesus telling us about God?

The first thing I want you to see is that it means that

He is a great and wonderful being.

His existence is on a much higher level than our existence. God is described as 'spirit'. Donald Macleod tells us that, (Behold Your God, p. 28)

"Spirit is the highest category known to man."

God is spirit and Jesus' words tell us that we are not to think of Him in physical terms. He is spirit. He is not bound by physical limitations. He is spirit. He does not have a body. He is immaterial and incorporeal. He is invisible, intangible. Donald Macleod writes, ( p. 28)

"He has no physical needs or dependence and consequently, no frailty."

We are not pure spirit. We are made up of both body and soul. Our bodies limit us in some ways. Some of these limitations are the result of sin, but some of them are merely the result of us being physical beings. In our present condition our bodies are frail and weak. They need rest and sleep. We need air to breathe. We need the atmosphere. A couple of years ago I read a book about Mount Everest and if my memory is correct one of the things that I read was that if you took someone from sea level and very quickly dropped them off on the top of Mount Everest, they would die very quickly. Our bodies need time to adapt to different conditions. We are bound by certain physical realities. You've all heard of the diving term, the 'bends'. If a diver surfaces too quickly after being down in the depths for awhile, it can kill him. Being physical beings limits us in some very important ways.

Now we must not be like some of the ancient
Greeks who despised the body and anything material. We must remember that when God created the physical universe He declared that it was good. It was the same with man. Adam and Eve, with their physical bodies, were declared to be 'good'. Indeed, God is going to redeem our bodies. Philippians 3:21 tells us that our lowly bodies are going to be made like the glorious body of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we must not think of our bodies and physical things as being inherently evil.

Yet having said that, we need to recognize that God is pure spirit and that His mode of existence is far above ours. A pure spiritual form of existence is superior to one that is bound by physical considerations.
Angels are spirits (Hebrews 1:14) and in that respect they have a higher level of being than we do. Psalm 8:4f reads,

"what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower
than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:"

We were made a little lower than the angels. They are spirits. We are body and spirit.

Yet angels are not spirit in the same way that God is. Angels, although they are spirits, are bound in ways that God is not. They do not have life in themselves. They are spirits who derive their life and existence from God's spirit. They are created spirits. They are limited in ways in which God is not. They are not everywhere present. Yet God is. God is not bound by space but angels are. Angels are not all knowledgeable, yet God is. They are powerful, yet they derive their power from God. They are spirits and they are above us, yet their existence as spirit is far below God's existence as spirit.

Grudem writes, (p. 187)

"God is spirit. Whatever this means, it is a kind of existence that is unlike anything else in creation. It is a kind of existence that is far superior to all our material existence. We might say that God is 'pure being' or 'the fullness or essence of being'."

God is pure being. He is fullness of being. He has life in Himself. He is self-existent and absolutely independent. He is the source of life. He was the One that breathed the breath of life into Adam and because of that Adam became a living being. As the apostle Paul said in Acts 17:24-25,

"The God who made the world and everything in it
is the Lord of heaven and earth
and does not live in temples built by hands.
And he is not served by human hands,
as if he needed anything,
because he himself gives all men
life and breath and everything else."

God is spirit. He is life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45) Grudem writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 162)

"The difference between God's being and ours is more than the difference between the sun and a candle, more than the difference between the ocean and a raindrop, more than the difference between the artic icecap and a snowflake, more than the difference between the universe and the room we are sitting in: God's being is qualitatively different. No limitation or imperfection in creation should be projected onto our thought of God. He is the Creator; all else is creaturely."

He is so high above us that our understanding of Him and His perfections only scratches the surface. He is infinite and our understanding in finite. As Psalm 145:3 says,

"Great is the LORD
and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom."

God is spirit. He is described in the highest terms that we can conceive.

Now this means that

When we think of God we are to think of Him in the highest possible terms.

We are to think of Him in connection with how the Scriptures reveal Him. We are not to identify God with any physical object or anything else in all creation. In Isaiah 46:5f God declares,

"To whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
Some pour out gold from their bags
and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
and they bow down and worship it.
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
they set it up in its place,
and there it stands.
From that spot it cannot move.
Though one cries out to it,
it does not answer;
it cannot save him from his troubles.
Remember this, fix it in mind,
take it to heart, you rebels.
Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me."

When we think of God, we have to think of Him in terms that are familiar to us. Yet we dare not associate Him with anything in creation. Donald Macleod writes, (p 29)

"He is not tree-god, or a mountain-god. He is not the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly bodies. Nor is He to be identified with any of the forces of nature. He is not a storm-god or a thunder-god or, like Baal and Asherah, a fertility-god."

When we think of God, we are to think in terms of how the Scriptures reveal Him. We are to think of Him as the Creator, the Powerful One. We think of Him as Father, as the Good Shepherd, as the Great King, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, Prince of Peace and so on. Yet in thinking of Him like that, we must always remember that He is far above what we can conceive. We must not associate Him with anything in creation.

Remember the golden calf?

What were the Israelites thinking? Wayne Grudem believes that it may have been an attempt to portray God as one who is strong and full of life. (Grudem, p. 187)

"but to say that God was like a calf was a horribly false statement about God's knowledge, wisdom, love, mercy, omnipresence, eternity, independence, holiness, righteousness, justice and so forth. Indeed, while we must say that God has made all creation so that each part of it reflects something of his own character, we must also now affirm that to picture God as existing in a form or mode of being that is like anything else in creation is to think of God in a horribly misleading and dishonoring way."

When we think about God, we must do so in the highest terms, in accordance with the Scriptural revelation. J.I. Packer writes, ( Knowing God, p. 41)

"It is certain that if you habitually focus your thoughts on an image or picture of the One to whom you are going to pray, you will come to think of him, and pray to him, as the image represents him. Thus you will in this sense 'bow down' and 'worship' your image; and to the extent to which the image fails to tell the truth about God, to that extent you will fail to worship God in truth. That is why God forbids you and me to make use of images and pictures in our worship."

Secondly, the fact that God is described as a Spirit means that

He is to be conceived of in terms of personality.

Spirit implies personality. A mere body doesn't imply personality. Animals have bodies, insects have bodies, yet they aren't 'persons'. But spirit implies personality. Charles Hodge writes, (Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 p. 379)

"If God be a spirit, it follows of necessity that He is a person,- a self-conscious, intelligent, voluntary agent."

Spirit implies personality. This is the way that the Bible presents God. John Frame writes, (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 35)

"'Spirit' in Scripture is personal… As Spirit, God speaks (Acts 10:19), leads, (Romans 8:14), bears witness (Rom. 8:16-17), helps (Rom. 8:26), prays (same verse), loves (Rom. 15:30), reveals (1 Cor. 2:10), and searches (same verse)."

If we look at the verses that I've just quoted, we'll see that the Spirit is presented as a personal being. Remember what happened after Peter saw the sheet let down from heaven? In Acts 10:19 we read,

"While Peter was still thinking about the vision,
the Spirit said to him,
'Simon, three men are looking for you.'"

The Spirit spoke to Peter. The Spirit is personal. In Romans 8:15-16 we read,

"For you did not receive a spirit
that makes you a slave again to fear,
but you received the Spirit of sonship.
And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit
that we are God's children."

There we see that the Spirit communes with our spirit, assuring us that we belong to God. Later in that chapter, in verse 26 we see that the Spirit prays for us. We read,

"In the same way,
the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We do not know what we ought to pray for,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us
with groans that words cannot express."

In Romans 15:30 referred to the 'love of the Spirit'. The Spirit loves. You can't get more personal than that. Indeed, the Spirit reveals to us the glories that Jesus is preparing for us. In 2 Corinthians 2:9 we read,

"'No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him'
— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things,
even the deep things of God."

God is an individual. He is distinct from his creation. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It was the Spirit that hovered over the waters. As Donald Macleod writes about God, (p. 29)

"He is free, intelligent, self-conscious and affectionate."

Now all this may appear very simple and basic and you may be wondering why I'm belaboring the point that God is a person. But this is a very important.

Donald Macleod writes, (p. 29)

"This may seem very elementary, but in actual fact such a conception of God has seldom, if ever, been attained except by those religions which are rooted in the Old Testament revelation — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is distinctive of biblical religion and indeed constitutes a frontal challenge both to the pagan theology of the ancient East and the philosophical theology of our own day."

God is personal.

I want to make two applications from this.

First, this means that

we are not to think of God as mere energy, or anything like that.

Grudem writes, (p. 187)

"Thus, God does not have a physical body, nor is he made of any kind of matter like much of the rest of creation. Furthermore, God is not merely energy or thought or some other element of creation. He is also not like vapor or steam or air or space, all of which are created things..."

Donald Macleod writes, ( p. 29)

"Nor is He to be conceived of in purely intellectualist, abstract terms. He is not the First Cause or the Prime Mover or the Absolute—terms hopelessly inadequate to describe One who knows, who is jealous, who loves and is provoked."

Our God is personal. He is spirit. He is personal.

Secondly, you should be aware that

God is a personal being with whom you have a relationship.

You are in a relationship with God whether you like it or not, whether you admit it or not. God has created you for His glory, He has revealed His Son Jesus to you and He commands that you repent of your sins and serve Him. Hebrews 4:18 speaks of God's knowledge of us and says,

"Neither is there any creature
that is not manifest in his sight:
but all things are naked and opened
unto the eyes of him
with whom we have to do."

You are either in a good relationship with God or a bad relationship with Him. You need to be in a good relationship to Him. It's your relations hip with Jesus that determines this. In John 3:17f we read,

"For God did not send his Son into the world
to condemn the world,
but to save the world through him.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned,
but whoever does not believe
stands condemned already
because he has not believed
in the name of God's one and only Son."

If you're not a Christian, you need Jesus. In John 14:6 Jesus said,

"I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father
except through me."

Lastly, for Christians, understand that

one day your relationship with God will be so much greater, so much more intimate, so much more joyous and glorious than it is today.

In 1 John 3:2 we read,

"Dear friends,
now we are children of God,
and what we will be
has not yet been made known.
But we know that when he appears,
we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is."

Revelation 22:3 tells about our place in glory. We read,

"No longer will there be any curse.
The throne of God and of the Lamb
will be in the city,
and his servants will serve him.
They will see his face,
and his name will be on their foreheads."

What joy will be ours. Psalm 16:11 speaks of this.

"You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

May Jesus be praised. Our position, our joy, our glory—will all be because of Him.